AURORA | An Aurora man has moved a step closer to crafting a ballot measure that would carve the city out of a local cultural facilities collective and prioritize the construction of a massive local arts complex.
Resident Jeff Brown on Tuesday announced that he has created a non-profit organization, Venues Aurora, to bolt onto his efforts “to revitalize the city’s entertainment, dining and retail,” according to a news release. As of press time Tuesday, Brown had not yet filed paperwork with either the IRS or Colorado Secretary of State. He said that would likely happen today.
Brown’s proposal calls for Aurora to secede longstanding Scientific and Cultural Facilities District and create a local version of the tax jurisdiction in an effort to buoy local coffers and build more arts venues.
“For over 30 years people in Aurora have paid a .1% sales tax for scientific and cultural facilities,” Brown wrote. “During this time, over 90% has gone to subsidize the economies of other cities, most notably Denver. After paying the tax for 30 years, Aurora residents have few such amenities. This geographic inequality has steadily choked city coffers and has contributed to three decades of decline in our older neighborhoods.”
Brown estimates that Aurora collects about $7 million a year in SCFD taxes and wants to use all those receipts for Aurora projects and programs.
In April, a panel of Aurora City Council Members shot down Brown’s call to forward his proposal to the full city council for further discussion, saying more data is needed.
“We need to make sure that we have data to back up what it is that we’re bringing to the voters,” Councilperson Curtis Gardner said.
Brown has begun a website, VenuesAurora.com, and is soliciting support.
Brown has contended the city could unilaterally leave the district via a county-referred ballot question, though SCFD officials have countered that the state legislature would have to pass a measure removing Aurora from the current district before referring a ballot question.
State officials were not immediately available to say in what order secession from the district would have to occur. But Aurora nor its counties could remove the city from the district with just a vote among Aurora residents.
The Arapahoe County appointee to the SCFD board, Jake Zambrano, condemned Brown’s recent proposal at the council committee meeting this spring.
“Mr. Brown’s endeavor to build a cultural venue in Aurora is a noble one … but … cannibalizing SCFD dollars for operations at some of our wonderful tier IIs and tier IIIs to build a building to service debt is short-sighted and detrimental to our community,” he said.
First passed by ballot measure in 1988, SCFD charges a penny per $10 to fund nearly 400 arts groups in the region. Voters have re-approved the tax four times over the decades, most recently in 2016.
Brown’s measure calls to allocate 20% of the tax collected in Aurora to current organizations like the Aurora Fox theater, while the remaining 80% would go to the building of a 10,000-seat complex.
Aurora voters have twice voted down ballot measures seeking to fund a performing arts structure in Aurora, once in 1979 and again in 2002.
Brown said rather than collect what he estimates to be 4,000 signatures needed to persuade commissioners from Aurora’s three counties to ask Aurora residents a secession question during the 2021 election. He said the chore would be more manageable than an estimated 12,000 signatures needed to force the city to refer the question to voters. It’s unclear whether the 4,000 signatures would create an incentive or mandate.
— Quincy Snowdon and Sentinel Staff